Friday, November 8, 2013

Race Recap: ING NYC Marathon

On November 2, I watched video of Red Sox left fielder Johnny Gomes placing the World Series trophy on the finish line of the Boston Marathon. It was described by some as a moment symbolizing triumph in the wake of tragedy, the uniting of victims of a horrible crime in celebration. I am sure for many—though not all—it was a moment of healing.

My moment of healing, however, did not come until the next day. As I wrote in this space earlier this year, as a Boston Marathon veteran, the marathon bombings felt deeply personal to me. When I ran Boston in 2011, the marathon course, and the sport of marathon, became a part of me. Since that date, I have felt a need to reclaim the marathon for myself, to prove to myself that the joy of marathoning had not changed and to feel like I was a part of the resilience—and that is how I ended up on the morning of November 3, and the foot of the Verrazano Bridge, determined to run 26.2.

Despite the chilly air and win, I loved running across the Verrazano. The view of the city was amazing, and the energy of the runners even better—we had all worked so hard to get that moment, and finally it was happening. When we pulled into Brooklyn two miles later, I took out my headphones and tried to take it all in. The crowd energy was incredible. I ran up 4th Avenue screaming Boston Strong at every Red Sox hat I saw in the crowd as I powered north.

I was finishing a strong first half of the race as I pulled into Queens. Seeing my family in Queens gave me a great boost, and even better, Natalia jumped in to run with me through what is said to be the hardest part of the marathon, the slow uphill over the Queensboro Bridge. We hit Manhattan and were greeted by incredible crowds. Sixteen miles down. Only 10 more to go.

At about Mile 18, my left foot started to hurt, my quads got tired, and I became daunted by the fact that I still had 8 miles to go. I told myself to just push through to Mile 21, where my family would be waiting. Breathe deep, enjoy the sounds of the marathon, one foot in front of the other. Somehow it worked, and seeing my family motivated me to have another good mile.

Until Mile 23.  Fifth Avenue toward Central Park is a gradual uphill, and though I ran this mile in training, it was much harder when I already had 23 miles under my belt. My left knee hurt on hills. My hips hurt. I had a toe that was killing me. I was disappointed in myself for slowing down after my strong start. I wanted to be done.

The scene on Central Park South.
Somehow I slogged through, and soon there was the 25 mile marker. So close. I picked the pace back up and was determined to finish strong. Seeing Dave and my Dad on Central Park South motivated me to pick my knees up high and keep running. 800 meters. 400 yards. 200 yards. I can see the finish line. And before I knew it, I was there. I had finished the New York City Marathon in 4:45:14, six minutes faster than my Boston time.

I tore out an Asics ad from the NYC Marathon program two years ago: “First you feel like dying, then you feel reborn.” I could not think of a better way to describe running a marathon. When the medal was put around my neck, I felt like I stepped into a better version of myself. One that was strong, wiser, and capable of overcoming anything.  

At home that night, I kept thinking of ways I could have done it better. I should do two 21-mile runs in training to work on pushing through the 18-mile wall. I should work on having negative splits. On the tough mile 23, I was actually disappointed in myself—I was running near the 4:30 pacer for much of the first half, and I could have finished in 4:40 if only I had been able to better push through the walls. I am, however, extremely proud of my finish—picking the pace back up at the end is not something I was able to do as a runner two years ago.

I owe so many thanks to so many people for their love and support throughout my training process, but few shout outs in particular are warranted: to my parents, both for driving down to New York and for years of being my number one fans; to my sister Sara, for trekking through four boroughs to see me, to my Mexican sister from another mister, Natalia, for being the most amazing cheerleader and training pacer, to Sophy, for organizing an amazing post-marathon party, and to Dave, for, well, everything.

But most of all, I owe a thank you to the city of New York, for giving me the opportunity to accomplish both a dream and some emotional healing through running. The race reminded me that marathoning represents the best of the human spirit—people pushing their bodies to achieve new feats, determination and will triumphing over the physical, community uniting to cheer on strangers as they perform these acts. I was truly blown away by the number and energy of the spectators throughout the boroughs. NYC, you are now right there with Boston, tattooed on my feet, and I will forever be grateful for this experience.

Monday, September 16, 2013

I get by with a LOT of help from my friends

With only six weeks left to go until the NYC Marathon, last week was time to step it into gear—more mileage, and a long run of 18 miles.

I was much more nervous than expected going into the 18-miler. In every other long run I had done (training for the Boston Marathon, the Marathon itself, and a 16-miler last month), I bonked out at Mile 14. I’d hit a wall where I just felt like there was nothing in the tank, and my legs would stop turning over quickly. I could get through the remaining miles through a combination of running, walking, and sheer determination, but it never felt good. Since I planned to do my 18 with one of my best friends biking for 14 and running the last four, I was rather embarrassed that she might see me struggling through the bonk.

I was in New England for the weekend for the Jewish holiday, and we chose a route around the Mystic lakes: a 7 mile loop that we would do twice, with Shannon joining for the first loop, then a 4 mile loop where Natalia would get off the bike and run with me. It started off perfectly—the weather was slightly cool, and I was so busy catching up with my friends that I barely noticed the first 5 miles go by.  We missed a turn that caused the loop to go from 7 miles to 5.4, but I knew I could easily make it up.

After we said goodbye to Shannon, we continued on for what felt like an hour. I checked the mileage, and we were only at 8.2. Not even halfway there. Ugh.

But then a funny thing happened. To correct the prior mistake, we started running down side streets…we’d go out half a mile or a mile, then come back. 8 became 9, 9 became 11, 11 became 13, and our pace was still sub-11 minute miles…then up Mystic Valley Parkway to the parking lot where Natalia would stash her bike, and we were at 14.5. Two out of three phases complete.

Natalia and I set out toward Bacon Street, and another funny thing happened: I felt okay. My quads felt a little worn, and I wasn’t going fast, but I felt like I had some fuel in the tank and was still doing sub 11 miles.  We rounded a cemetery, went through some side streets, then took a right back on Mystic Valley Parkway. As neared the end, Natalia started to sprint. And without thinking about it, I did too.  I am not sure if I was running off real energy or adrenaline, but it was a runner’s high better than any I had ever felt before.

I am not sure if my strength came from just having a good day, if years of training have just made me stronger, or if I finally figured out my nutritional issues. But I know that a large part of why I ran so well is that I was just having so much fun with Natalia and Shannon.

I have always thought of myself as a beginning runner. I took up running late in life, when I started a stressful law firm job and wanted an excuse to be outside more. Even after I ran my first marathon, I felt that running was a hobby I had only recently gotten into. But with the 5th anniversary of my first road race having occurred a few months ago, I recently realized, running is not a new hobby for me but a lifestyle. I love to always be training for something, to plan all my meals around fueling for a long weekend run, to get up on a Saturday morning and spend most of the day running or biking, and to be too tired to do anything else because I got up early for the activity.

A huge part of truly feeling like a runner is having become friends with an amazing group of women for whom endurance sports are a lifestyle.  These women, who I met through a now-defunct company called Boston Performance Coaching, made training not just something I did for an hour ever day, but the purpose of my days.  Even after having left Boston for New York, the women I met through BPC continue to offer me training advice and support (in both athletics and life) on a daily basis. Though many, including myself, have mixed emotions about the company itself, I will forever be grateful to the group for introducing me to these incredible women, who have helped me achieve things I never thought possible.

And also, they are responsible for me eating a lot of recovery bacon.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Adventures in Urban Cycling

The Queensboro Bridge. I'll be running over it in just 98 days.
The plan for June and July was simple: 10-12 mile run on Saturday, then long bike ride (50+ miles) on Sunday. Add a few short workouts during the week and I’d be all set—ready to ride 190 miles in the PMC and start my long marathon training runs in August. The problem with the plan: I didn’t realize how exhausting 7 weeks of back-to-back intense workouts would be.

The problem with this schedule, I realized, is that I never got a chance to sleep in. Every single morning for 7 weeks, I had to get up and be somewhere, either work or a work out. Many of these workouts occurred on mornings after I had been traveling or at an event and I didn’t necessarily get 8 hours of sleep. After an abnormally hot weather long run and a hilly 80-mile ride last weekend, I was dying for a morning to lay in my bed, sip my coffee leisurely, and just relax.

So I cancelled my 50 mile ride today in Northern Jersey today and decided instead for an afternoon “tourist ride.” Though there are bike paths along the entire circumference of Manhattan, I’ve never actually ridden the loop. The paths are relatively flat, and you can’t go very fast due to the number of casual riders and runners on them. It would be a perfect route for a relaxing pre-PMC ride.

The Freedom Tower.
It started off well. I entered the West Side Highway bike path around 91st street and headed south. On the west side, the lanes are wide and well marked. The weather was cloudy and a bit rainy at times, which made the crowds slightly thinner. As I headed into Lower Manhattan, I got a nice view of the new Freedom Tower, which I had never seen in its full glory previously.

Battery Park was a mess—construction meant that I had to ride in the road, which was rather congested. I followed a rider with a bell through the traffic and soon found myself on the East River path. This was not so pleasant. The path is narrow in many parts and a bit ugly (some stretches are under overpasses). It stops completely at 37th street because the UN building is in its path, and one has to ride streets up to 63rd.  Somewhere in the 80s, it stops completely again, and one has to climb a staircase to the overpass where it continues. Throughout lower Harlem, the “path” is made of tiles, which make for a rather bumpy ride on a road bike.

Though the path is named the “Manhattan Waterfront Greenway,” it actually leaves the waterfront at 120th street and one has to head inland across Harlem to catch it again. I enjoyed seeing the beautiful old brownstones of Harlem for a bit, but when I got to upper Harlem, I couldn’t find the entrance to the trail. The bike path signs pointed down a hill, and a bike lane went down the hill a few blocks and then just stopped at an entrance ramp to the Harlem River Parkway.. I stared at the fork for a good 5 minutes and finally realized that there was a small break in a cement barrier that lead to a sidewalk. I followed that and it put me back on the trail.

Bottom of the GW bridge.
I had to take another street detour when the trail ended at Dyckman Street. Again I had an issue with a lack of signage to where the trail picked up again on the Hudson River at the GW bridge, but I found my way fairly quickly. The upper part of the Hudson was beautiful—lush greenery, wide lanes, and lovely views of the river. I enjoyed seeing how many people actually use the green space, and in particular, smelling delicious bbq they were cooking.  I quickly made my way south back to my starting point and headed home.

It was just the workout I needed for today—time in the bike seat without being too physically challenging. Though it wasn’t the nicest ride ever from a serious rider perspective, it’s pretty awesome when you think about how much green space Manhattan has given the number of people and the value of that space.  This space is used by an amazingly diverse set of people for a number of purposes, and it made me feel good about NYC to be a part of that.

With this, I will declare my PMC training officially done and take it easy this week. Next stop: Sturbridge!  

Friday, July 12, 2013

My Journey to 26.2: The Challenges of Desert Training

My Vegas bike. Don't tell my New York bike about her.
My first week of official marathon training offered an easily doable set of workouts (short run, a few short bike rides, and only 10 miles on the long run) but rather daunting weather conditions: temperatures in the 110s while I was in Vegas for the holiday weekend.

I have been struggling with training in Vegas for the past year and a half, since I started dating a wonderful man who lived there.  The situation poses a number of unique challenges.

First is jet lag. It’s not just that Vegas is 3 hours behind New York—the Vegas lifestyle causes bedtime to be about 9 hours behind New York. Staying up late the night I get to Vegas results in my body being completely confused about when to sleep, which in turn causes me to lack energy for the long run.  My body similarly gets confused about when it is supposed to eat and how much.  I hate getting up early when I’m in Vegas because it puts me on the complete opposite schedule of Dave (who works nights). But on many days, early is the only time it’s cool enough to work out outside.

Which leads to the second challenge, climate.  June and July are unbearably hot in Vegas, and even in the other months when it’s a bit cooler, there are few trees to prevent the sun from completely baking you. At all times of year, the air is extremely dry, which is hard on your lungs if you are used to humidity, and even harder from a hydration perspective.  There are few public water fountains in the neighborhood where I run and no carts selling water like there are in New York.  Last weekend, the temperature did not dip below 100, which meant that there was no point of the day when I felt it was safe to run outside. 

The third challenge is finding a place to work out. Dave lives in the middle of a hill, which means that somehow whichever way I go when I head out his door, I end up doing the first few miles of my run uphill. I belong to Equinox, which doesn’t have a branch in Vegas, and the boutique gym trend (where one can pay for things like spin and pilates by the class) has yet to really hit Vegas. Much of my athletic equipment (bike, bike trainer, foam roller, yoga mat) doesn’t fit neatly into a carry-on suitcase.  I broke down and bought a bike in Vegas a few months ago, but finding a place to ride has been difficult, because to get to Red Rock Canyon, where most cyclists in Vegas hang out, I have to ride 8 miles uphill.

Obstacle course race in Vegas in May.
So how am I overcoming these challenges? I’m trying as hard as I can to schedule my longest runs for weekends when I am in New York. I’m not wild about running in the humidity either, but at least in New York, it’s easy to get water on the run. When I do have to do long runs in Vegas, I’ll either do 5-mile long loops around the house or have Dave create water stops for me so I can refill my water bottle at regular intervals. I’ve been experimenting with various forms of hydration. For running, I need water in the bottle I carry to wash down my Gus, but I drink electrolyte drink at the water stops (I’ve come to prefer Nuun over Gatorade because it has less sugar). For cycling, I invested in a Camelback insulated water bottle, which really does work to keep my water fairly cool despite the sun.

I also broke down and joined a local Vegas gym. I spent a long time looking for day passes and pay-by-class gyms so I would only have to pay for what I used, but I figure out that these options cost more than the monthly membership at the Las Vegas Athletic Club. The gym is not fancy (I have to bring my own towel) but it serves its purpose.  And, it has an indoor track that is rather nice—no incline, and about half of it is framed by floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto the desert.  I got a little dizzy after 2 miles of loops, but I was able to alternate 2 miles on the track and 2 on the treadmill to get in 10 miles last weekend.

I’ve yet to figure out a good solution on the jet lag other than just powering through to the best of my ability.  I’m opting for fewer, longer trips to Vegas this fall instead of frequent short ones, which I hope will let me adjust better to the time changes on both ends.

Now, if I could just figure out how to run in New York’s insane humidity.

Monday, July 1, 2013

My Journey to 26.2: Here We Go Again

Monday, July 1. For two months this date has been highlighted on my calendar: start of NYC Marathon training.  As today, I am committed to 16 weeks of early morning runs, a pasta and gu diet, blisters, and no excuses.

To be honest, I am a bit scared. Training for the Boston Marathon two years ago was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I woke up at 5:30am every day, I rarely hung out with people unless they were willing to run with me, I left parties at 10pm because I was too tired, and I went on exactly zero dates. I went 112 days without missing a workout, and the only reason I broke the streak was that keeping up the streak caused me to get bronchitis.  I loved the challenge of pushing my body to new levels every weekend, but I hated the stress and exhaustion that came from balancing an intense workout schedule with my job. Though I knew I had guaranteed entry into the NYC Marathon, I spent most of the beginning of the year making excuses as to why I couldn’t run: the timing wasn’t right, I travel too much, it would be too hard to balance the training against my long distance relationship.

Then the Boston Marathon bombings happened. On the night of April 15, all I wanted to do was run 26.2 miles. I began doing some longer runs as part of training for the Covered Bridges Half Marathon on June 2, and suddenly I felt incredibly grateful for two working legs and the chance to push myself through running. Four thousand people were denied the opportunity to finish the Boston Marathon because of terrorism. Fifty thousand people were denied the opportunity to run NYC because of Hurricane Sandy last year. I had the required mileage base from training for CBHM. I couldn’t pass up this opportunity.

Having made a decision, I’m going to need a few things to help me through the training:

1) Training Plan: the amazing Kelly Cassidy, who took a girl who struggled through 11-minute miles and turned her into a marathon runner, kindly agreed to create a training plan for me. The concept will be the same as last time (alternating weeks of intensity and recovery) but the running mileage will be more. I did a lot of cross-training for Boston because my body wasn’t quite ready to absorb the impact of intense running. I’m a more mature runner now and ready to push myself a bit more on mileage.  

2) Outfit: Looking good is key to any successful training plan, and most of my running gear was for cold weather since the winter I trained for Boston was so brutal. Lucky for me, Lululemon’s spring color happens to be my favorite color as well: purple.  (Thanks also to Natalia for my awesome purple “I don’t sweat, I sparkle” shirt).

3) Training Music:  I have to recycle songs for longer runs, but for short ones, I created a nice playlist to spice things up. Fun.’s Carry On really speaks to me right now (good recovery after hills song), and I downloaded a few hits from the Biggest Loser soundtrack to motivate me.   

4) Ground Rules: A few guiding principles to help me do this right:
·      No flip flops. I love the ease of slipping them on, but the movement of using your toes to keep your shoes on kills your feet. My two favorite pairs are going in the trash today.
·      Flexibility is a good thing. I did a lot of classes the first time around, which meant that I was committed to the same schedule every week. This time, I want to allow myself to move workouts around so that I can have more of a social life—and in particular, accommodate my relationship. I’m looking forward to the flexible cross-training days that Kelly has built into my schedule.
·      Don’t be afraid to take an extra day off. As long as I get in my long runs, I’ll make it through 26.2. If I’m not feeling well, or jet leg is killing me, I’ll be better off in the long run if I take an extra day off during the week.
·      Don’t skip the stretching. Avoiding injury is crucial. I’ll be taking another session of an awesome yoga workshop, JackRabbit’s Yoga for Athletes, starting August 14, and will be committed to this and foam rolling after all long runs.

Though I’m nervous, I’m also excited. Running Boston made me a stronger and better person—and that’s why I took what happened on April 15 so personally.  I can’t wait to see what joys come from going through the 26.2 experience a second time.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Race Report: Covered Bridges Half Marathon

The group was all smiles before the race.
The Covered Bridges Half Marathon was going to be MY race. I picked the perfect course—fairly   My four long training runs were the strongest I’ve ever had in training.  I hydrated for three days in advance and was careful in my diet to build up carbs but avoid sugars. I picked out the perfect outfit (purple of course). For the first time in two years, I felt like I had a chance at a PR. But Mother Nature threw me a curve ball: a heat wave.
flat, with idyllic scenery.

I spent most of the ride to Vermont the day before the race watching the car temperature climb—90, then 93, then 95. I am slightly accustomed to running in heat thanks to having to train on weekends spent in Vegas, but not at all acclimated to running in humidity. On paper, it was in the mid 70s when the race started, but without a cloud in the sky and near 100% humidity, it felt significantly warmer.  

By the first water stop, I knew just finishing was going to be a struggle. My leg muscles were swollen from the heat and already feeling tight. I could feel my heart racing and started to feel a bit light-headed.  I said goodbye to my dream of a 2:05 finish and I quickly switched to survival mode—walking through water stops every two miles so I could grab two cups of water, walking for a minute whenever I felt my heart rate get too high or got chills, and overall, just trying to enjoy the opportunity to have such a beautiful run instead of worrying about time.  It took me a good mile to get over the disappointment, but once I stopped worrying about time, the miles began to melt away. I crossed the finish line at 2:19:19—over a minute faster than my prior time on the CBHM course.  

My reward for a job well done.
[The race did end up being a PR in terms of the quality of bacon consumed post race. Thick, local cob smoked bacon is so delicious you will want to move to Vermont and get a farm with a golden retriever just so you can eat it every weekend. But I digress.]

Every mile of this race was one of the most hard-fought for miles I have run in my life (rivaled only by the last 10 of the Boston Marathon). But they were also some of the most worth it. The course truly is beautiful—it weaves through the adorable classic New England town of Woodstock, over a covered bridge, past some farmlands (first time I have ever been cheered on by a cow), and then winds along the Ottauquechee River to the Quechee Gorge. (first time I have ever been cheered on by a guy in a kayak). After so much training in New York City, running in the quiet countryside was a huge treat. Numerous bands played along the course (and unlike the Rock and Roll races, these bands were actually good). I particularly appreciated the brass band at Mile 10—brass bands always remind me of my grandmother (a trumpet player), and thinking of her strength in life motivates me.

I also learned an important lesson: sometimes pushing through an obstacle (heat, injury, emotions, etc.) is more of an accomplishment than a time PR. I am proud of myself for understanding my body and the science of running well enough to know what to do to get myself through the tough conditions. I am happy with how strong I felt during the parts I did run despite the bad weather. I am proud of myself for balancing a long distance relationship and long distance running and for getting my training runs in despite constant jet lag.  In training for this race, I put myself in a position to take on a goal I have had for the past two years—running the New York City Marathon. 

So, I better figure out how to run in heat and humidity. Training for New York starts 4 weeks from tomorrow, and it’s not getting colder any time soon.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Love that Dirty Water

April 18, 2011—the day I ran the Boston Marathon—was one of the best days of my life. I spent most of my life hating running, but I fell so in love with the lore of the Boston Marathon that I dedicated a year of my life to preparing myself for the challenge of running 26.2 miles. I pushed through Heartbreak Hill, kept going when I wanted to give in, and had the most incredible feeling of accomplishment and pride when I crossed that finish line.  Today 23,000 people woke up thinking that the day would be one of the best days of their lives, and it turned out to be one of the worst for many of them and their friends and family.

I am always sad when I hear news reports of mass violence, but today felt personal. Though I am temporarily displaced from Boston, it will always be my home. Having had the experience of running the Marathon forms a huge part of who I am. I have witnessed countless marathons in Boston and I know the Marathon is not just about running 26.2 miles. It's about the entire community coming together to celebrate the patriotic history of the city and to push ourselves to accomplish feats we never thought possible. The Marathon is Boston and Boston is me.

A friend said it best: “As a runner, as a Bostonian, is like such a personal attack on your family. And if you want to fuck with my family, you fuck with me.”

I started off feeling sad and worried. Then I began to feel angry. And then I started to want run. I had a sudden urge to lace up my shoes, go out to Hopkington, and show those responsible that they cannot take this away from me. There is no doubt in my mind that the Marathon will go on next year, and it will be Boston’s way of showing the world that we are strong. And I want to be a part of that.

So if anyone hears of a charity spot for 2014, please let me know. I’m all in for Boston.